Martin Talks says research and clear objectives are crucial when choosing a marketing agency

Choosing the marketing agency that is right for your company is a crucial part of developing a successful marketing campaign. It gives your company strong foundations on which to build.

The key elements to consider when choosing a marketer are: budget; their experience and track record; your marketing objectives.

However interesting your firm, it is your budget that will dictate the sort of agency you are able to hire. Calculate what you can afford to spend and then do your research to ensure you get the best value for your money.

Speak to a number of agencies to find out the going rates and the service you can expect. Avoid any sharks by always asking for credentials and references so you can assess their experience and relevance to your needs.

While the definitive marketing strategy will be developed with your chosen consultant, it is impossible to choose the agency that can serve you best without first having an idea of what you want to achieve.

Marketing is a tool to support your business objectives, so this is where you should start.

If you want to be the biggest insurer to the car industry, you will want to talk to an agency with experience in that sector. There are, however, pros and cons to employing agencies that specialise in certain areas.

On the plus side, they should know the sector well and therefore what will work within it.

On the downside, they may also be working for one of your competitors, or have a defined vision of how marketing has previously been done in that sector and be blinkered in how they market your company.

Similarly, agencies that don't specialise are unlikely to have as in-depth knowledge of your chosen market sector - although larger agencies may employ individual experts.

On the plus side, their experience in other areas may enable them to approach your chosen sector with fresh ideas which could help you stand out amongst the competition.

Examine the various different ways of achieving your marketing objectives. If your budgets are limited and you want to build a rapport with your target audience through frequent communication, or if you have a message that changes regularly, online marketing is likely to be your most cost-effective marketing tool.

However, there is a skill to this, so be sure to use a specialist interactive marketing agency that can ensure your money works hard for you online.

Effective briefing
Once you have selected your agency, the next hurdle is agreeing what it needs to achieve for the money that you're paying. You must agree a strategy that is Smart - specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely.

Your brief to an agency will form the cornerstone of their work. You must therefore be very specific about what you want to achieve.

For example, you may want to generate inquiries about your latest insurance product. How many inquiries do you want? You can measure the success of a strategy by monitoring results. You must ensure that the goals you set are achievable and realistic - this is where your chosen agency will be able to advise you. Be sure to listen.

One of the biggest mistakes firms make is refusing to be guided by their consultants.

If they advise that a certain strategy won't work, or cannot be delivered within a certain time frame, listen to their reasons - and the alternatives they should offer you as well. After all, you're paying for that expertise.

Finally, agree some timescales, as you need a definitive end point when you can sit back and assess the campaign's success.

It is important to remember that a quick-fix marketing plan won't deliver the best benefits in the long term, although you will always find an agency prepared to offer one.

A successful marketing campaign must be tailored to meet your specific objectives and to talk directly to your target audience. To create something that will truly distinguish you from your competitors, time must be spent assessing the marketplace and interrogating your business to identify and highlight your unique elements.

Invite your marketers in and help them to get to know your company better. They'll do a better job for you and you'll get much better results. IT

' Martin Talks is chief executive of marketing specialist, Blue Barracuda

Electronic newsletter
Question: We are a family-run insurance firm. Our granddaughter wants us to start emailing a newsletter to our clients as she has learned on her university course that this is good marketing practice. But, we think we'll just be seen as a nuisance and annoy people. Any advice?

Answer: You should be proud of your granddaughter; she's obviously listening to what's being taught at university! She's right, electronic newsletters can be an effective way of building loyalty among your client base, as it keeps your business at the front of clients' minds and can establish you as a good source of knowledge.

However, you must ensure it's interesting for the reader so that your prediction - that you become a nuisance - doesn't come true. Also, the current data protection laws prohibit you from sending unsolicited emails, so be careful. You'll have to get people's permission before sending them anything.